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ABF study reveals the threats that COVID-19 poses to the affordability and accessibility of housing in the small-building rental sector

January 11, 2022, Press releases

January 11, 2022

ABF study reveals the threats that COVID-19 poses to the affordability and accessibility of housing in the small-building rental sector

CHICAGO – American Bar Foundation (ABF) Research Professor Anna Reosti, along with University of Illinois at Chicago Ph.D. candidate Allison Suppan Helmuth, published a new report detailing the experiences of small-building and owner-occupant landlords in Chicago and their responses to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Rental Property Management: Insights from a Chicago Case Study, drew on 69 in-depth interviews with independent, small-scale landlords across the Chicagoland area, most of whom live in two-flats and three-flats.

These independently owned, small rental properties (SRPs) make up a large portion of the country’s supply of unsubsidized affordable housing, and landlords in the SRP sector tend to employ distinct approaches to rental property management that can create favorable terms for tenants, such as limiting rent increases and negotiating partial or late payments. The report’s findings suggest that in response to financial losses and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, some SRP landlords are adopting more risk-averse styles of property management that could reduce the affordability and accessibility of housing in this sector.

“While most of the landlords in our study managed to maintain their flexible and accommodating approaches to rental management in the face of COVID-19,” Professor Reosti said, “a sizeable minority of those we interviewed reported shifting to more rigid management practices in reaction to the financial challenges and risks associated with the pandemic, or planning to do so in the future.

“Those shifts included raising rents and fees and implementing tougher tenant screening criteria. We hope that our study can help inform policy interventions that prevent or discourage landlords in this sector from passing the risks and costs of rental market crises on to tenants.”

The report’s discoveries shed light on many of the circumstances that force SRP landlords to adopt rigid management practices and how these practices affect the tenants living in these SRP buildings. In conjunction with other ABF sponsored research, Reosti and Helmuth’s study is designed to help inform the region’s policymakers in their housing and pandemic response measures.

“Dr. Reosti and Ms. Helmuth’s collaboration is a quintessential example of innovative and influential ABF research,” ABF Executive Director and Research Professor Ajay Mehrotra said. “This research is certain to inform policymakers everywhere about the consequences of new housing rules and regulations, especially as society aims to recover from the current pandemic. The ABF is especially grateful to work with the Housing Crisis Research Collaborative and the Urban Institute to make this research possible.”

This SRP report was supported by a grant from the Housing Crisis Research Collaborative, an initiative which aims to address the inequities in access to safe and affordable housing that have been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Reosti’s other projects and publications can be found here on the ABF website, and more information about Ms. Helmuth’s research can be found on her website.

About the American Bar Foundation

The American Bar Foundation (ABF) is among the world’s leading research institutes for the empirical and interdisciplinary study of law. The ABF seeks to expand knowledge and advance justice through innovative, interdisciplinary, and rigorous empirical research on law, legal processes, and legal institutions.  To further this mission the ABF will produce timely, cutting-edge research of the highest quality to inform and guide the legal profession, the academy, and society in the United States and internationally. The ABF’s primary funding is provided by the American Bar Endowment and the Fellows of The American Bar Foundation.

About the Housing Crisis Research Collaborative

The Housing Crisis Research Collaborative provides policymakers at all levels of government with the data and analysis they need to design, implement, and evaluate more equitable and effective rental housing and community development responses to pandemic and the ongoing rental housing affordability crisis. For more visit: The Housing Crisis Research Collaborative is supported by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the Wells Fargo Foundation and managed by the Urban Institute

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